You may be surprised to know that the medical profession considers menopause to be nothing more than the year anniversary of your last period. Haven’t had a period for a year? Congratulations, you are in menopause. We’ve developed this post on menopause 101 to help with your menopause journey.
Who cares? What we care about is the way we feel and we certainly don’t feel like ourselves for many years before the slightest change in our periods. The hallmark of menopause is a dramatic reduction in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. Remember puberty? That is the ramping up of these hormones. The tapering off is just as volatile and can last for far longer.
THE THREE STAGES OF MENOPAUSE
So, if I am not in Menopause, why do I feel this way? The transition phase leading up to Menopause is called Perimenopause and can be much harder to define. Perimenopause begins to happen anywhere from three to five years before actual menopause. The majority of women start experiencing perimenopause in their mid to late 40s. Many confuse menopause with perimenopause, as this is the phase where common symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia, memory fog, and mood swings begin.
As mentioned, menopause is the year anniversary of your last period. It is really a moment in time. Once you hit that moment you move on to the next stage of menopause.
Postmenopause is the time after menopause has occurred. Once this happens, you’re in postmenopause for the rest of your life. People in postmenopause are at an increased risk for certain health conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE
Did you know that there are 34 symptoms of menopause? Many of these symptoms you are probably very familiar with and many you will probably be surprised to learn are connected to menopause. We are all familiar with hot flashes and night sweats, but there are so many other symptoms that women struggle with during menopause and the years leading up to it. 85 % of women experience at least one symptom of menopause, but over 25% of women. The most common menopausal symptoms include:
HOT FLASHES AND NIGHT SWEATS
A sudden drop in estrogen disrupts the body’s temperature regulation center. The body responds as it does when it is overheated. The brain then sends out a signal to cool the body, producing sweat. This cycle can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Your face may turn red and you may sweat. The most frustrating part of these shifts in temperature is the lack of control you feel of your body.
VAGINAL DRYNESS & DISCOMFORT DURING SEX
Vaginal dryness is a less talked about symptom that can bring a lot of discomfort to women. As hormone levels drop the mucosa becomes thinners and looser. In addition, vaginal secretions decrease causing daily discomfort and pain during sex.
CHANGE IN SEX DRIVE
In addition, to the discomfort a menopausal woman may feel from vaginal dryness, they also find that their interest in sex drastically decreases. While there are many physical and hormonal changes that can decrease your sex drive, there are also many emotional and mental considerations. When a woman is moody, exhausted, and uncomfortable their sexual desire will suffer. If you can address the mental barriers to sex, you can more easily address the physical aspects with lubricants and moisturizers.
Natural hormonal fluctuations leading up to menopause put women at a higher risk of developing depression.
During perimenopause, your ovaries begin producing lesser amounts of key hormones including estrogen and progesterone. As these hormone levels fall, symptoms of menopause increase. Insomnia can be one of the symptoms of menopause.
Insomnia is a disorder that prevents you from getting adequate sleep. This may mean that you have a difficult time falling asleep. It can also mean that once you fall asleep, you have a hard time staying asleep. This is commonly referred to ask menopause fatigue.
It might seem like a surprising symptom of menopause, but the drop in a woman’s estrogen level may be responsible for dry skin problems.
Many women in perimenopause and early post-menopause years gain fat mass as their estrogen levels drop.
Reduced levels of estrogen starting around menopause can cause thinning of the lining of the urethra, the short tube that passes urine from the bladder out of the body. The surrounding pelvic muscles also may weaken with aging, a process known as “pelvic relaxation.” As a result, women at midlife and beyond are at increased risk for urinary incontinence, or the involuntary leakage of urine.
Research suggests that hair loss during menopause is the result of a hormonal imbalance. Specifically, it’s related to a lowered production of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones help hair grow faster and stay on the head for longer periods of time.
MOOD AND MEMORY
Women going through menopause may generally feel a more negative mood, and that mood may be related to memory issues. During menopausal transition many women complain of memory problems such as difficulty with words, forgetfulness and “brain fog”, thus suggesting that hormonal changes related to menopause may be responsible for changes in cognition. However, brain fog is not the only reason women can be moody during menopause. Menopause can be a dramatic physical and emotional transition. Hormonal imbalance and other symptoms like insomnia and weight changes can also cause mood swings.
CAUSES OF MENOPAUSE
Menopause generally begins between the age of 45 and 55. On average, over 80% of women between the age of 50-54 are menopausal. However, many women can become menopausal from health conditions, health treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, and surgical menopause.
PREMATURE OVARIAN FAILURE
Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), also known as premature ovarian failure, happens when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. For women with POI, irregular periods and reduced fertility start before the age of 40.
POI is different from premature menopause. With premature menopause, your periods stop before age 40. You can no longer get pregnant. The cause can be natural or it can be a disease, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Premature menopause can be even more dramatic than menopause. With perimenopause and menopause, your symptoms begin to layer on top of each other gradually as your hormones change. However, with premature menopause, it can feel like you are falling off a hormonal cliff.
Removal of both ovaries before typical menopause is called “surgical menopause”. Surgical menopause is commonly performed at the time of hysterectomy for benign (non-cancerous) disease, most commonly for heavy menstrual bleeding or fibroids. Another common reason to remove normal ovaries at the time of hysterectomy is to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Give yourself a break. Forgetting things? Use your Post-it, alarm settings and phone for reminders. Some things will fall through the cracks. Stitches will be dropped. Extend the forgiveness you’d give others to yourself.
Many of the other symptoms are harder to fix with an alarm or a Post-it. Because women have vastly different menopause experiences, there still isn’t one medically agreed upon treatment for the condition. Treatments range from old-school pharmaceutical hormone therapy to new-age holistic treatments. The stress of trying to determine a treatment that works, only makes the process more frustrating to women.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
Estrogen therapy is the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes. Depending on your personal and family medical history, your doctor may recommend estrogen in the lowest dose and the shortest time frame needed to provide symptom relief for you. If you still have your uterus, you’ll need progestin in addition to estrogen. Estrogen also helps prevent bone loss. Long-term use of hormone therapy may have some cardiovascular and breast cancer risks, but starting hormones around the time of menopause has shown benefits for some women.
SELECTIVE ESTROGEN RECEPTOR MODULATORS MEDICATIONS
Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are drugs that can be extremely helpful for women who have specific health concerns about hormone therapy but need relief from hot flashes, low bone mineral density, vaginal atrophy, and bleeding.
Regular exercise during and after menopause offers many benefits including preventing weight gain, reducing the risk of cancer, strengthening your bones, reducing the risk of other diseases, and boosting your mood.
Many women are turning to natural remedies and cannabis to combat the symptoms of menopause. Botanicals and teas have been used for hundreds of years to help with health conditions and symptoms.
More and more women are now turning to cannabis to help with their symptoms. We created Hello Again because we could not find a treatment or product on the market to relieve our range of symptoms. Hello Again is a cannabis-powered vaginal suppository that combines the healing power of cannabis with specific, effective botanicals. In addition to a balanced ratio of THC and CBD, the suppository also includes botanicals that help with inflammation, energy, mood, and focus. Menopause does not have to be debilitating and relief is possible outside of traditional medicine.
SOCIETY & CULTURE
Menopause and perimenopause are generally talked about in a very negative way if talked about at all. Many women associate it with old age and are ashamed to share their struggles with their family and friends. Only recently does it seem that women are having more open conversations about menopause.
Luckily, media, celebrities, and the entertainment industry are beginning to talk about and represent the good, bad and ugly stages of menopause. Books on menopause are becoming more popular by the year and are a great additional resource. The more open the conversation about menopause becomes, the more prepared women can be when they enter this stage in their life. We want women to feel supported at work and at home as they go through this transition.
The key is listening to your body, knowing you deserve proper care, and finding a way to feel like yourself again. We believe YOUR STORY IS JUST GETTING GOOD.
– Carrie Mapes + Hallman Ray